I think of myself as a wife, mother, speech/language pathologist, preservationist, project manager and community volunteer. Since this information is for Historic Indianapolis.com, I will address my interests simply as a preservationist.
I grew up in the historic section of a small college town in Ohio called Westerville. The only home I knew, until I married, was built in the in late 1800s; a simple gothic Victorian. I loved walking around the main downtown streets with 2 story brick buildings punctuated with 3 story structures on the corners of the blocks. To this day I feel the greatest sense of well being, when I am in small historic towns. However, I believe that my passion for historic preservation, while rooted in my childhood, has been fueled by my marriage to a preservation architect.
I met Jim when I was 18 years old and we married two years later. His idea of a great date was to look at architecture and then go have coffee or wine. He was designing quite contemporary architecture at that time. It was, however, always rooted in proven principals of architecture that came from historic structures and one of his favorite courses had been History of Architecture taught by a professor that will always be in his head. So I found myself tromping through not only new construction but lots of musty old buildings. I always found it fun to listen to his visions of how buildings that looked and smelled so awful could be brought back to such inviting and beautiful places…and soon I could see the possibilities for myself.
Our first apartment was located in German Village in Columbus, Ohio. Settled by German immigrants in the mid 1800s, this large village of brick structures is a renowned restoration area and one of the earliest places in America to become a “historic district”. It is full of historic brick structures that range from large homes around a city park to countless small brick cottages that were closer to the breweries where many of the first residents worked, including Jim’s great grandfather. I began to learn about restoration from living there and trying to understand the history and the restoration movement that was happening around me.
Five years later we moved to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania…a borough settled in 1812 and tucked in the foothills of the Poconos. The home of Bucknell University, it is a very charming town with houses flush to the street and close to each other. The streetscape was punctuated with original wrought iron light posts with multiple globed lights. We bought and renovated an 1842 clapboard home with stacked side porches and a long back yard. That was our first experience with hands-on renovation. My strongest memory was related to refinishing the wood floors. It was in August and it was quite hot and humid and the floors simply would not cure. We had to climb down a ladder from the second story side porch; walk around to the cellar door, through the basement and up to the kitchen to eat each morning and retrace our steps in the evening….for nearly two weeks. We spent many late nights after work and graduate school, sanding, painting, and updating and I think we were good stewards; leaving the home for the next generations.
We then moved to Washington DC and wanted to live in an older section of the district where young people were rejuvenating older homes. However, our realtor convinced us that it was not safe and we needed to be in a new town house in the suburbs. That was perhaps the greatest learning experience of all because it solidified our desire to live in a historic area. When we moved to Indianapolis in 1975, we kept telling realtors that we wanted to live as close to downtown as possible in a historic area and they kept taking us to Carmel because “those old neighborhoods were not safe”. We were not going to fall for that myth a second time. So we searched for historic neighborhoods on our own. We drove through Lockerbie Square and could see past the empty lots, dilapidated houses – many with demolition numbers painted on them, and even a washing machine in the back yard near our future home. But we saw through all of that and could see the beautiful historic structures just waiting for a new life.
Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana (now Indiana Landmarks) had worked with the Lockerbie Square neighborhood to move in period houses in eminent danger of demolition to in-fill some of the empty lots. Our house was the first of several to be moved and came from what is now known as Chatham Arch. That has been a source of teasing over the years but in reality, it would have been in a landfill if we had not moved it. It took nine months to renovate to a point that we could move in because Jim and I did a lot of the work ourselves after work and on weekends. There had been an earlier city plan to make Lockerbie Square a Disneyland-like park around the Riley Home Museum. The location where our house sits was to be a large parking lot and so when the previous house was demolished, the water line was removed. It took nearly the entire nine months to get a water line to our house. So we did the majority of the restoration/ renovation by carrying buckets of water from the large Queen Anne on the corner of Lockerbie Street and Park Avenue being restored by Bob and Helen Small.
Most of the houses that sat between us were vacant. All of the wall paper steaming, plastering and dry walling, etc. was also done by carrying buckets from over a block away. Jim and his brothers did a lot of the things that I could not do, but I did strip 26 layers of paint off of the wood work with a blow torch…no fires but lots of burn scars on my hands. I think that restoring and/or renovating a house together is a true test of a relationship. If you have renovated an old house with someone, you know what I mean. However, after major renovations of two more homes, one that required us to cook on a Coleman stove on the patio and wash dishes in the basement sink for longer than should have been necessary, Jim and I are still together and will celebrate our 46th wedding anniversary just before Christmas.
There is nothing like hands-on experience to teach you about restoration/ renovation, but I believe that reading the preservation magazines that arrive at our house on a regular basis, and attending both the national and international functions of the Historic Resources Committee of the American Institute of Architects with Jim and the annual preservation conference of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for over 25 years have helped me to better appreciate the challenges that the preservation movement has come through and what we are facing. I go for all the field sessions that I can do at the two national conferences each year. I have learned from listening, looking, smelling and feeling old buildings and sites.
I served as President of the Lockerbie Square Peoples Club in both the early 1980s and again 3 years ago and continue to serve on its board. I am proud of Lockerbie for being the first historic district under the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission (IHPC) and appreciate the efforts that it took by many people to make that happen. Long before my husband was asked to serve on IHPC, I understood what it meant to me and my neighbors and have appreciated the protection that it provides to our neighborhood. Recently I heard Lockerbie referred to as Indianapolis’ Premier Historic District, mostly by people who do not know what it looked like in the 1970s or that it looks the way it does today because residents have persevered over the years to keep all new development consistent with our historic plan.
It is with this background that I lead the Historic Urban Neighborhoods of Indianapolis (HUNI) as the new President. Over the past several years, I have been the Liaison from Lockerbie Square and have truly enjoyed getting to know each of the historic neighborhoods…some of which are IHPC districts and some not. However, ALL care about preserving their communities and the individual character that they bring to the City of Indianapolis. Those neighborhoods that are IHPC districts have their own distinct historic plan that defines how each community it to be preserved and developed. A great deal of time and effort goes in the creation of these plans and they are approved only if nearly 70% of the people support them.
Across the country carefully developed plans combined with supportive communities have shown that historic districts give cities and towns their individual character, provide strong economic development (data shows it generally to be greater than manufacturing and agriculture), and are highly sustainable. The greenest building truly is the one that is already built. The historic districts really showcase a city. It is with that pride that I look forward to the contribution that HUNI can make during the upcoming Annual Preservation Conference for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Avery informative and informed article!
Thanks for all your hard work in the field of historic preservation, Marjorie. It was interesting to read about your efforts!